Agency adapts to pandemic’s parameters
By Deb Silverthorn
The pandemic continues to challenge Jewish Family Service of Greater Dallas, and like the successful team it is, the agency keeps stepping up to the plate and hitting home runs of support for the community.
“We will never stop providing a lifeline to those who need us and we are finding new ways to reach out every day,” said JFS Chief Executive Officer Cathy Barker.
As Dallas reopens and adjusts to ongoing fallout from the coronavirus, the agency continues to serve the community, albeit with new protocols and new platforms.
The Food Pantry
In the past three weeks since reopening for drive-by pickups only, JFS has served 3,400 members of the community.
On Thursday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon, the agency is providing contactless service to cars who circle the parking lot at the Edna Zale building at Montfort Drive and Arapaho Road. Clients pull through two stops. One station is for boxed shelf-stable items and produce, care of the North Texas Food Bank (NTFB). The second is for meat, eggs, snacks, baby-care and hygiene items. JFS is trying to alternate items from week to week.
At this time, support is open to anyone in need regardless of ZIP code.
JFS staffers and volunteers, wearing masks and gloves, place the items in each car. For those who do not have vehicles, arrangements for gift certificates and other support are available. There is no walk-up or walk-in pickup at this time.
There’s been an increase in the demand for Food Pantry supplies and JFS’ kosher home delivered meals. So far, JFS has met the need for both services according to Robin Raxlin Gormley, director of Food Pantry and Emergency Assistance Program.
“It’s a very big deal when you don’t know where your next meal will come from and if you can be safe in getting what you need to survive,” said Raxlin Gormley.
JFS Food Sourcing Coordinator Marilynn Wohlstadter works with NTFB, local vendors and retail partners and is also creating boxes for families following kashrut guidelines from its Kosher Corner. Until COVID-19 restrictions subside, food and supply contributions from the public are not being accepted.
Joining JFS last Thursday were employees from its neighbor Chick-fil-A. Seeing the line wrapping the building, Owner Operator Curt Kelly had his team provide breakfast for JFS employees and 150 clients as they passed through the line. He plans to return in June to distribute sandwiches.
JFS clients receiving clinical services continue to be touched by the agency’s professionals through telehealth, telephone or video. Working from their homes hasn’t slowed the intake process or clinicians’ responses.
“We have adjusted and thank God for so many means of technology. We are providing the utmost care to our clients,” said JFS Director of Clinical Services Ariela Goldstein. “We are able to meet the needs for most of our clients and we’re grateful for the patience and the wherewithal of everyone.”
The areas presenting the greatest challenge are play therapy for children and diagnostic testing, because they aren’t easily suited to teletherapy. To meet this, Goldstein’s team is working closer with parents, giving recommendations. For those that will need to be tested, staff is preparing them. JFS is organizing town hall meetings via Zoom that will allow clinicians to answer the public’s questions of anxiety, triggers, financial and more. Dates for the town halls will be forthcoming.
Special needs services
Provisions to those living with special needs continue with therapies, PERK (Parents Empowered Raising Kids), support meetings and the expansion of the CHAI-5 Book Club, a joint effort with CHAI, Community Homes for Adults, Inc. The program, which previously had a few participants, now reaches most of the residents in CHAI’s eight group homes. Zoom brings the residents and group leaders together to share storytelling and conversation.
“Our PERK group is meeting twice a month, instead of once and I’m making many more personal calls because that connection, the support and the empathy that it provides are vital,” said Lorraine Friedman, director of Special Needs Partnership and Programs. Recently, she hosted a PERK ladies’ evening, “Every Day Should be Mother’s Day,” delivering self-spa kits to those for whom respite is a rare experience. “Those who care for our families need to be cared for too and we’re doing that,” Friedman added.
Other clinical services
JFS’ family violence and intervention services are ongoing and serving those in need. Those clients already in place remain and JFS is vetting others for possible residency.
Slowly, JFS’ support groups that regularly meet weekly or monthly, are working to go online, but its leaders continue to be available by phone or email.
In partnership with Dallas County, JFS will provide housing assistance, a maximum of $1,500 per month for up to three months, for individuals affected by the COVID-19 crisis who live outside the City of Dallas, but within Dallas County, who meet designated criteria.
Personal crisis has not slowed in the time of this coronavirus and JFS continues to provide help for those searching for work and needing financial coaching and education. While many have lost their jobs, temporarily or permanently, JFS continues to fill positions, nine in the last week ranging from a clerical position to an analyst role.
“This is not the time for people to give up, or to delay a job search, because there are jobs out there and every time we make a placement, I cry. I’m more concerned about what the flood will be when the unemployment extension runs out in July,” said Allison Harding, director of Career and Financial Services. Her department is working with staffing agencies and posting YouTube and Facebook videos with tutorials. “Please reach out and please be the one, not the one in a million.”
Harding’s department is already prepping, as best they can, creating webinars in several areas: employment, financial responsibility, resumes, budgeting, networking, managing credit cards, video interviews, salary expectations and more. They are also looking into providing question-and-answer capabilities through Zoom.
Community support is crucial
JFS has expanded its services with an increase in those needing food, those experiencing depression and other issues that have compounded since the beginning of the pandemic. Crucial donations in support of the agency have come in directly to its Woman-to-Woman event, held online in April; the SHEF Emergency Assistance Fund supporting restaurant workers; North Texas Giving Day and grants by Bank of America and North Texas Cares.
JFS’ Resale Shop reopened Monday, May 25, with hours from noon to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Donations are not being accepted on-site, for the protection of both employees and the general public. However, appointments for pickup of furniture and large donations, the first of which will begin June 1, can be made by calling the store at 214-710-1362.
“There are brighter days ahead and we have a community here to lean on,” said Barker. “Agencies like ours rely on our friends and supporters to overcome our biggest obstacles. We all need someone to lean on.”
JFS Community Chaplain Rabbi Howard Wolk reminds us that this is the week of Shavuot, “when we celebrate becoming a covenantal people and one of the important messages of that is the unity with which we arrived at Mount Sinai.”
What we are experiencing now, he said, “should remind us of the importance of unity for one another, our people and our greater community. We may be hugging virtually, but we must never stop hugging of the heart.”
For more information about JFS and its programs, or to make a donation, visit jfsdallas.org or call 972-437-9950.